Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mr. O'Connor Goes to Washington, Day Three

Friday night was a blast but it made the 6:15 AM wake up call come too early. My Government Affairs Committee meeting began promptly at 7:30 AM, and since they paid the bill I was obliged to be on time. The association's Washington offices are two blocks from the White House so I was anxious to see if there was a good view. At least that is what I was thinking as I said hello to the Indian man who passed me walking briskly. He hesitated at the corner and asked if I was heading to 1717 North Pennsylvania and we were happy to discover we were both headed to the same meeting and so we shared good conversation along the rest of the walk. I soon discovered that he emigrated to the US a decade ago but decided not to jump through the hoops that were necessary in order to continue practicing medicine and had instead gone back into health care administration. His son is a 4th year medical student in Washington so he visits regularly. I got some good recommendations for authentic Indian restaurants mixed in with his views on what was in store for us and suddenly we were at the entrance to the building. Even though the inauguration had occurred four days earlier, or perhaps due to the buildings location, security was tight. We had to be buzzed in, screened and signed in before we were escorted to the 6th floor. It was a beautiful office building designed so that I felt important just being allowed inside!
The meeting was quite exciting, although it was full of subject matter that would make most peoples eyes glaze over. Lots of lobbyists spoke, policy makers weighed in, and I was pleased that my feedback and input seemed to have some value. I also discovered that people were keen to discover what happens in Montana thanks to Senator Baucus saying he would rely heavily on input from Montana physicians and patients when crafting his legislation on health reform. The time flew and it was 2:00 PM before I knew it...side highlight was getting to go up to the roof top for an eagle eye view of the White House and stories of sharp shooters planted there during the inauguration parade.
After getting back to the hotel and meeting up with Jen (who'd spent the day in Georgetown soaking it in), we were disappointed to discover our camera was missing. We believe it was stolen, either from the restaurant coat room or our hotel room , but couldn't rule out the scenario that we'd lost it ourselves. We spent the next hour walking around trying to find a camera store and then spending money we don't have on a new one that was far more than needed. Some grumpiness ensued but we fought through it and trotted off to continue the adventure. Despite itself, Washington is a real city, full of real people doing all sorts of things besides government work. Once we got the camera and our bearings we realized we were in the heart of a vibrant, busy city full of people scurrying about in their own worlds. But we refocused on the task at hand, being tourists and taking in the good stuff. We headed down to the White House, the Ellipse and then Washington Monument. The front view of the White House was blocked mostly, due to bleachers and the official viewing stand, which were all in different stages of disassembling, so we weren't able to see much other than all the other folks trying to get the same shots as us. The rear view though was awesome and we just stood, half expecting the President to come out on the balcony and wave to the crowds. The Ellipse was fenced into sections and otherwise not worth mentioning other than the wind that began to sweep across the open space and nip at our necks. By the time we reached the lines of Thai-manned vending trailers, the day had suddenly turned bitter cold and nasty, with strong winds which forced us to bail on our planned walk of the war memorials and Lincoln's Monument. We tried to fight it and walked to the Washington Monument, but by the time we neared the base we were walking backwards against strong winds. We could see Small dust tornadoes whipping up on the Mall. After a brief huddle to discuss our options, we opted to abandon our planned walk back to Foggy Bottom and headed straight for the Metro, which was filled with many cold and dazed folks just happy to be out of the wind.
After a quick warm-up in the hotel, we took my new friend Pawan's advice and headed into Georgetown for Indian food at the Taj of India. It is a delightful little restaurant just across the bridge on M Street that seems to have as many waiters as patrons, but soon the place filled and once the food began arriving we knew we'd hit a great spot. Authentic and varied, the Taj features options from many regions of India, although it seems as though the main focus is on northern and eastern Indian cuisine. I really didn't see much in the way of southern Indian choices, but since I love the gravies and sauces of northern Indian cuisine, I was quite satisfied. The food was outstanding, as was the service and the prices were some of the best we experienced our whole trip. I'm told DC is a "foodies" paradise and everything I saw suggests this to be true, we just didn't have enough time to take in all the local offerings.
After fully stuffing ourselves (Jen got a vegetarian sampler platter that could have easily fed both of us) we hiked back up to Foggy Bottom where we caught the free shuttle to the Kennedy Center. I managed to score two seats in the Orchestra level of the Opera House for the 9:30 PM Bill Cosby performance. We loved the Kennedy Center and Bill Cosby was hilarious. He is still an amazing performer, especially in light of the way he performs...no profanity, no direct sexual content, no disparaging remarks...just great storey telling and down to earth humor. He told a very long story about the woman who has cooked for him the past 40 years and at the end of the performance he introduced her...she was sitting in the front row and he had brought her out to see the inauguration. I expected him to talk about the inauguration or President Obama, but he only made one brief mention of the new President, much to the delight of the crowd. The place was packed and the earlier show was sold out. He still has it going on and had everyone bellowing with laughter at points in the performance. After the show, we crowded back onto the bus where I promptly started taking pictures and began chatting with anyone that would listen letting them know we were in all the way from Montana. Most everyone humored me, including my wife. The bus let us off two blocks from the hotel and we retired for the evening, shortly after midnight, knowing our big day was the next.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Washington Adventure, Day Two

Friday morning I was nervous as all get out...I had two meetings scheduled on the hill, one with a senior Senate Finance Committee staff member and the other with a staff person from Senator Max Baucus's office. Even though I kept telling myself the meetings would be a breeze, my stomach and nerves weren't so convinced. I took the Metro from the Foggy Bottom station (1/2 block from our hotel), switched at the Metro Center and popped out at Union Station. The sun was shining and I suddenly felt some confidence in my bones. I arrived about 4 minutes late to my first meeting but managed to smooth over the receptionist and front staff. I was supposed to have 15 minutes to share my thoughts on health reform, as luck would have it, I got 40 minutes. We had alively discussion and I left feeling quite good. I navigated my way to the Russell Senate building and was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming Senator Baucus's staff were and how friendly the atmosphere was...there is a reason Baucus keeps getting re-elected. My meeting with the Baucus staffer was equally productive and I was sincerely impressed with the enthusiasm and interest he showed in my requests. I walked out of there re-invigorated with the notion that one person can make a difference.
I popped over to the Russell Sneate building and dropped off some information at Senator Tester's office and then walked along the back side of the Capitol, passing a pro-life protest, the Supreme Court and the Congressional office buildings. I stopped into Congressman Rehberg's offce to drop off another packet about Fort Missoula Regional Park before heading back to the hotel to meet Jen.
We hopped back on the Metro and headed down to the Smithsonian/Mall. Incredibly, they were still taking down barricades from the inauguration. We met a delightful Ethiopian woman at the main Smithsonian infromation desk who filled our heads with all kinds of facts about the Washington Ethiopian community. We then headed over the the Museum of the American Indian for lunch. Fabulous! I had pumpkin/cocounut conszuela, maple brined turkey, and Indian pudding while Jen got a more Central American dish of braised beef and chicken wrapped in torillas, grilled brussel sprouts, and a squash dish. expensive as all get out but well worth the stop. The museum is well done and is beautifully designed. After about two hours we then trudged over to the Air & Space Museum...a complete wonder to both of us! We took all kinds of photos and gazed, mouths open at the displays and exhibits. Unfortunately at 5:30 we were promplty herded out of the museum like cattle to slaughter by the Museum security staff, cutting our visit way too short.
After Metro-ing back to the hotel we quickly changed and took a cab to meet another Purdue friend who remains one of my best friends, Eddie O and his wife Kathy in Georgetown at Cafe Milano. Excellent food, great company, superb atmosphere, and a penchant for laughter all combined to make our second night in Washington even better than the first. After dinner Ed and Kathy drove us on a night time tour of the monuments. It was really breath taking to see the big three (Jefferson, Lincoln, Washington) all lit up at night and the Capitol in all its grandeur. After our driving tour they dropped us off at the hotel where we promptly collapsed into a deep slumber.
Day three tomorrow!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

John & Jen's Excellent Washington Adventure

In November I was notified I'd been selected to be a member of the Government Affairs Committee of my industry association. Pretty cool for me from both a business perspective and personal interest angle. Later that month I was told that duie to the impending change in administrations, they had decided to move the meeting from May to January and from Chicago to the Washington DC offices! Woo hoo. Unfortunately, plane fares and the meeting schedule prohibited me from combining it with witnessing the inauguration, nonetheless I was quite excited. To make matters even better, Jen had never been to DC so we decided to make a small vacation out of it and she came along. My Mom & Dad agreed to come visit and watch Liam for us, giving us our very first opportunity to ever spend this much time together alone as a couple...but that is another story all in itself. So here we are, enjoying the wonder, splendor, bustle and hustle (and incredibly cold winds) of our nations Capitol.
We arrived on Thursday late in the afternoon and as the plane flew into Reagan National, we could see all the signs of the inauguration on the mall. It was clear and sunny, so we could easily see the landmarks and people working below. The jumbotron's were being taken down, temporary barriers were still everywhere but being disassembled and the ground bore all th emarks of being underfoot to a massive crowd. We took the Metro to our hotel, which is right next to George Washington University in Foggy Bottom. We fumbled a bit with the fare cards and felt a little like country bumpkins, but everyone we met was very nice and patient with us. After a short rest we headed down Pennsylvania Avenue where we met my old college roommate Beedo, his partner Chris, and some of their friends for dinner at a new Washington hot spot, Founding Farmers. The restaurant is owned by a farming cooperative and all the food is fresh, organic, and local (although local was never defined). It also is Washington's first LEED restaurant and is certified as a green restaurant. Coming from Missoula, where just about every business is either green or in the process of going green, it was a little refreshing to feel one step ahead of the city slickers. I gigled inside thinking about how all the crunchie chewy Missoulians would feel about a green restaurant that charged $20 for organic mac & cheese and fried chicken. Then I thought to myself I was being a little snobbish in the opposite direction and got back to enjoying the evening. Beedo brought a workmate who had just gotten back from the Galapagos Islands and she had loads of photos. She was super nice and interesting and turned out to be quite the traveler having also been to Africa and getting ready to head of to Cuba. We also met his neighbor, who works for customs and is just a riot. Chris and Beedo have been together for almost 14 years but this was the first time we'd met and I must say it was like I'd known him for a long time. He was great and had a big laugh, something a loud laugher like me really appreciates. It was a really wonderful evening that ended too soon.
I'll post about Friday tomorrow.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gran Torino

Jen's sister is visiting us with her two kids Jack(4) and Evan (3). Last night we had Jen and our three (9, 6, 2), Nancy (her sister) and her two, their friend Vicki and her two (6, 4), Jen & Nancy's Mom and their niece all over at the house. It was chaos in grand proportion.
Luckily for me, I'm sick. And sick enough to justify saying I needed to get the h-e-double sticks out of the house. So I did something I haven't done in about three years...I went to a movie. It was between Defiance and Gran Torino so I asked the cute girl at the ticket counter for her advice. Without hesitation she said Gran Torino and I am glad I took her advice. I dropped 8 bones on the movie (what the hell is that all about?) so opted to skip on the small bag of popcorn for $5.75. I now understand how Jen spent $55 last month taking 5 kids to the movies!
Clint Eastwood is a bad ass who happens to make great movies. i've always been a fan...I even like the flick where had the pet orangutan and traveled around fighting bare knuckles for a living. He is a great actor in my opinion and an even better producer. While his character in Gran Torino doesn't fall far from the tree of his stereotype (rough exterior with a heart beating faintly inside), the movie does a great job of portraying a man confronting his own mortality and prejudice at the same time.
It is set in Michigan. Eastwood plays a retired Korean war vet who hasn't changed as the world changed around him. Some great side plots and supporting actors as well. I cried in this movie, I laughed and I grew used to the large amounts of profane and vulgar language pretty quickly.
On a scale of 1 to 5 stars Johnny O gives this one a 4.